Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Critics warn that the U.S. push to develop hypersonic weapons is creating a new global arms race. (Photo: A hypersonic weapon which is capable of reaching targets anywhere on earth just within an hour, was tested and destroyed by US. (Photo : Reuters)

US Tests 'Hypersonic' Weapon Designed to Reach 5 Times Speed of Sound

Critics warn new class of weapons is leading to new global arms race and risks dangerous escalation

Sarah Lazare

The U.S. military is taking the global arms race to new speeds, with the second test launching of an Advanced Hypersonic Weapon that has the ultimate aim of hitting targets anywhere on earth within an hour by traveling up to five times the speed of sound.

But the test, which took place Monday at the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, was cut short by an unspecified failure in the device, which exploded just seconds after taking off. "Due to an anomaly, the test was terminated near the launch pad shortly after lift-off to ensure public safety," the Department of Defense announced in a press release. "There were no injuries to any personnel."

The explosion follows a prior 2011 successful launch of the weapon, which was developed by Sandia National Laboratories, which is a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation and a contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The hypersonic weapon development is overseen by the U.S. military as part of the Prompt Global Strike program, which was created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks to develop ultra-fast non-nuclear weapons. The program, which is subject to little public scrutiny, continues to receive resources from the Pentagon, which awarded a $44 million contract to the Alabama-based Miltec Corporation in June to develop an Advanced Hypersonic Weapon.

James Action reported in January for Foreign Policy that the U.S. pursuit of hypersonic weapons has led to similar efforts by Russia and China, leading to a "new and potentially dangerous arms race." Furthermore, he warns that the weapons development is already influencing nuclear policy in Russia and China. He writes:

For example, fear of American conventional weapons has sparked an internal Chinese debate about whether Beijing should abandon its long-standing policy not to use nuclear weapons first.

Meanwhile, various Russian officials have repeatedly indicated a lack of interest in negotiating further nuclear reductions because they worry that doing so would make their nuclear forces more vulnerable to American conventional weaponry.

The Carnegie Foundation warns that the weapon creates a serious risk of escalating conflict and, because of its appearance, "could be mistaken for a nuclear weapon."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Experts Warn 'Doomsday Scenario' for Colorado River Basin Possible in 2023

"The problem with massive projects like Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam," said one climate journalist, "is they were engineered for a climate that no longer exists."

Julia Conley ·


Starbucks Violated Law and Must Bargain With Union in Seattle: NLRB

The coffee giant, which plans to appeal, "is continuing its aggressive anti-union campaign against workers by delaying, confusing, and flat-out refusing to bargain with them," said Starbucks Workers United.

Jessica Corbett ·


Three UK Universities Ban Fossil Fuel Industry Recruiters From Campus

"It is vital that our universities show with actions, not words, that they are taking the side of climate justice, and not of the industries driving us deeper into a climate crisis," said one campaigner.

Julia Conley ·


Lula Aims to Create New Federal Police Unit to Curb Environmental Crimes in Brazil

"Reverting the destruction from the past administration and taking meaningful action to protect the Amazon and the climate must be a priority of the new government," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil ·


Merkley Bill Aims to Dismantle Hedge Fund Stranglehold on Housing Market

Senate Democrat accuses Wall Street of "pouring fuel on the fire of the affordable housing crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo